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A Film Review of Girl Interrupted; Mental Health and Gen Z, Lessons from 1960

Girl, Interrupted is a film adaptation of Susanna Kaysen's memoir that depicts the experiences of a young woman in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s. The movie explores the complex and often painful world of mental illness. It challenges viewers to confront their own preconceptions and prejudices about mental health.

Mental health and illness is a topic that has been surrounded by stigma and misunderstanding for centuries. From locking people up in cellars to dungeons to mental institutions. Oftentimes, family members deemed abnormal were hidden away, and some women were even given unnecessary medical procedures to make them complacent. Instead of addressing the situation and attempting to help those suffering from mental illness, society chose to hide them away or remove them entirely from the equation. 

With the rise of Gen Z, there has been a significant shift in how mental illness is discussed and often perceived. As this generation grapples with climate change, economic uncertainty, and political unrest, mental health has become an increasingly pressing concern for all. 

For much of Gen Z, mental illness is a topic that hits close to home. This generation has grown up in a world where mental health is discussed more openly, and seeking help for mental health issues is more accepted than in previous generations. However, much more work is needed to reduce stigma and increase access to mental health resources.

In her memoir, Girl, Interrupted, Susanna Kaysen conveys her experiences as a woman and patient in a psychiatric hospital in the 1960s in the US. The madness depicted in the book teases and puzzles the reader, eliciting fear and fascination all at once, all the while challenging readers to probe its ambiguities and depredations. Kaysen describes the hospital and the other patients in vivid detail. She uses imagery to make the reader want to learn more about them and their experiences. At the same time, however, the reader is constantly reminded of their sufferings as they struggle to cope with their illnesses and the oppressive environment of the hospital.

The ambiguity in Kaysen's novel hooks the reader. It challenges them to think about what society deems as mad and what is genuine mental illness. She presents the psychiatric hospital as a place of imprisonment and oppression. Patients are treated brutally and 'taught' to conform to society's expectations there. At the same time, Kaysen acknowledges how she and her friends feel a sense of safety and community in the hospital. They've built strong relationships, and she looks back at them fondly.

Overall, Kaysen's portrayal of madness challenges readers to face their prejudices about mental illness and how it might affect their lives. She exposes the deficiencies in the psychiatric systems of the 1960s. She describes them as reducing human beings to diagnoses and treatments. Kaysen suggests readers should consider alternative ways of understanding and handling mental illness.

Ultimately, the madness in Girl, Interrupted is both exhilarating and unnerving. It draws readers in, forcing them to confront the uncomfortable realities of mental illness and how psychiatry in the 60s limited the resources and possibilities available to women. By intriguing and confounding readers, Kaysen challenges readers to probe how madness presents itself in our lives and urges us to seek more humane ways of understanding and handling mental illness.


In conclusion, Girl, Interrupted is a thought-provoking film that explores the complexities of mental illness and societal perceptions of madness. As Gen Z becomes increasingly aware of mental health issues, the film serves as a wonderful example of the importance of reducing stigma and increasing access to mental health resources. Susanna Kaysen's memoir offers a unique perspective on mental illness and the psychiatric system of the 1960s, urging readers to consider alternative ways of understanding and handling mental health. While it has been over fifty years since her experiences, her story can still be very relatable and insightful in 2023. Ultimately, the film and memoir encourage viewers to confront their own preconceptions about mental health and offer a call to action to create a more compassionate and supportive society for those struggling with mental illness.

Edited by: Liz Coffman

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